There is some old cliche about returning to the scene of the crime.
A couple of weeks ago I went back to Fayetteville. Tits was getting married and it was time for me to get it together and face my demons.
This wasn't the first time that I had seen my old friends and caught glimpses of my old life. I'd gone east for a Sister's big Texas wedding three years before and further East for a whirlwind weekend in Philly a year after that. Then Justin died and everything was so pear shaped that I didn't know how to respond to the Sisters who reached out to comfort me from thousands of miles away. My interactions with my former life had been limited to sporadic Facebook messages from Roommate (who is a happily married lady now, barely recognizable as the hell raiser I once knew) and postcards from the Globetrotter- the only one of us who always knew exactly who she was.
So I got Tits' black and red invitation (appropriate for two Razorback alums, no?) and I held it in my hands for awhile before I could bring myself to open the envelope. The invitation itself wasn't a surprise- Tits had sent me a message requesting a mailing address a few weeks before. The message had been a surprise, but I had dutifully responded with the requested information.
I rolled the idea around in my head for weeks before I decided to go. Skinny's lack of support and the doubt in my mother's eyes were part of the motivation to go. I needed to prove to myself that they weren't right, that it was a good idea, that I was strong enough to return to a place that represented the best and worst times of my life. So I made a flight reservation, announced to Facebook (and effectively the world) that I would be attending Tits' wedding.
The response was so positive. More positive than I expected- Tits was so excited; women I hadn't seen in years were happy to hear I would be in attendance, wanted to spend time with me while I was in town. I was a little overwhelmed, in the best way possible. Let me be clear- it was not the Sisters I lacked faith in, it was myself. The TexasJewess (who is not really very Jewish and no longer Texan) offered to fetch me from the airport and house me in her guest bedroom. I had planned a hotel and a rental car, but her gesture effectively knocked down all remaining hesitation.
Before I knew it, I was counting down to the trip. Then (after a trip down PCH to LAX spent fielding work calls on speaker phone and fighting Southern California traffic) I was boarding a plane. On the flight my iPod seemed to know that I was headed backwards in time. It played all of the songs I loved when I was nineteen and all of the songs with memories attached. Tenacious D, Jason Boland &The Stragglers, Lucero, Pat Green, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Cross Canadian Ragweed. I closed my eyes and let it all wash over me: giggling through "Fuck Her Gently" on the way to Tulsa, sitting on a makeshift stage thisclose to Jason Boland singing about pearl-snap shirts, learning to two-step in a champagne soaked foyer to "Fishin' in the Dark".
I was met at the airport by TJ who was exactly the same and completely different- still tall, bold, loud and lovely... but softer somehow. Her Texas twang was gone and she was happier than I'd ever seen her. She ushered me out into the cold air and I breathed in the Ozarks for the first time in five and half years.
We spent the morning of the wedding day walking around campus. It was absolutely deserted due to Fall Break, but I'm glad it was empty. There were things I needed to see, to come to terms with and hundred of writhing bodies in Polos and neon would've added to my anxiety. The only downside to the empty campus was that no one was around to let us into the sorority house. So many things were the same: Razorback Stadium, the "Pi Palace", my old dorm. And so many were different: Old Main was under construction, the fraternity house where I had spent so much time is now a parking lot, there is a mall on campus, new houses on fraternity row.
I had a momentary panic as I was seated waiting for the wedding to begin. I wasn't sure I could face the girls that I hadn't seen in years, answer the questions, smile in the face of all of the overwhelming memories.
The wedding turned out to be the sweetest little hometown wedding I've ever seen. It totally represented Tits & Mr. Tits. I actually got a chance to talk to the bride at the reception and she made me cry. I caught up with old friends and laughed and drank and even danced a little. After some hesitation on my part (and being paged over the loudspeaker) I participated in the sorority wedding ritual. I felt a little awkward about it, but I remembered more than I thought I would, and it meant a lot to me that my Sisters wanted me to participate.
I didn't escape the event unscathed, however. We went out to the bars after the reception. I fell on Dickson (like hundred of coeds before me) and ended up with two skinned knees and a sprained ankle. I should have known better than to wear the blue pumps that were a gift from Manonna. Such things have bad juju. I insisted that I was fine, but my sisters' husbands and boyfriends rushed to my aid anyway because as one of them put it "Honey, you're not fine. You're bleeding." I suppose that it was a fitting end to the evening. No reunion is complete without a little humiliation.
Before I left TJ told me that she was glad to see me doing so well, that I'm healthier and happier than I've been in years.
I was skeptical because I felt scraped raw by the whole weekend, but I guess she's right.
As angry and confused as I've been these last couple of months, the desperation is gone. I feel like I've won some kind of battle. The war may not be over, but for now this life is mine.